The life of a victim: a survivor’s story

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Donald C. Knechtel
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Sexual assault is a topic at the forefront of news, movies and TV. There is a stigma that females are the only victims of sexual assault. However, males are included in this list as well. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office, was established to educate, advocate, and collaborate to respond to and stop sexual assault and its harmful effects on the Air Force.

While the SAPR office is a support agency that provides tools and services for people who have experienced sexual assault, regardless of shape, size or sex, it wasn’t always there.

Before the SAPR program was created in 2005, victims of sexual assault were on their own, according to Brian Lewis, an advocacy board member for Protect Our Airmen and a sexual assault survivor. Now, more than 15 years after his experience, he speaks to service members worldwide on the subject of male victimization to raise awareness and to shed light on a male’s experience.

“I talk about sexual assault in general as well as the specific experience of male survivors,” Lewis explained. “Some of the key points I focus on are how to help Airmen after they have been assaulted and how to teach senior non-commissioned officers and officers to not engage in retaliatory conduct; though their intentions might be good, such retaliations still harm survivors regardless of intent.”

Lewis stated the military needs get ahead of sexual assault to stop it. His primary message to Airmen is that it takes a village to help a survivor, and a wingman is the best person to help victims recover.

“Ellsworth is a small Air Force base so your wingmen will know what’s happening before leadership does,” Lewis said. “They can be the best source of support that an Airman can have.”

Male survivors may not seek the support they need due to the stigma placed on them. According to Krista Sheridan, a sexual assault victim advocate assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing, when it comes to sexual assault, male survivors haven’t been fully accepted because no one’s talking about it.

“Our main focus here was calling attention and bringing awareness to male sexual assault,” Sheridan said. “When people think about working with a survivor, their minds naturally gravitate toward females with male perpetrators. We really need to work on accepting that males and females can be victims.”

SAPR’s mission to break down these barriers is not just important for Ellsworth but the military as a whole.

“As a community, bringing continued awareness to sexual assault is very important,” Sheridan explained. “April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but we don’t want to speak on this issue in just April, it needs to be discussed year round.”

She said inviting guest speakers to Ellsworth to tell their stories helps increase awareness, and Sheridan hopes to invite more speakers like Brian Lewis in the future.

“We need to break through those barriers, and I feel a lot of people walked away with something to think about,” Sheridan said. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, and bringing Mr. Lewis in helps shed light on male victims.”

Lewis hopes his message reaches Airmen and wants to see change filter through the ranks before he can call it a success.

“The SAPR staff here at Ellsworth has a lot of outstanding individuals, and I encourage anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault to reach out to them because they really do have the victim’s best interests at heart,” Lewis stated.